Many alumni earn a living merging the business acumen they learned at Wharton with a creative pursuit, but we are hard-pressed to find one who succeeds at it on such a grand scale as Megha Mittal, W’97. Her arrival at School was the first time she had ever left home in India, she confides, but the experience propelled her toward her current spot as the head of a global fashion empire.
Let us explain. Mittal worked for Goldman Sachs soon after graduating from Wharton during the peak of the technology boom, but she realized she needed to express her passion for design and fashion. She returned to school for design, a move that eventually led to a massive decision: to purchase the German fashion brand Escada in 2009. It has been a turnaround operation, one that she’s had a hand in on a daily basis from day one as executive director and chairman of its Administrative Board.
The result has been a return of Escada’s popularity—mirroring its glory days during the 1980s—and a brand reimagined for, and by, the 21st century woman. Someone like Mittal—a sophisticated world traveler with many important roles to play. Executive. Leader. Partner (she is married to Aditya Mittal, W’96, CFO and board member for ArcelorMittal; the pair met when they were students). And mother of two young daughters.
Wharton Magazine enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation with her about all of the topics:
WHARTON MAGAZINE: Can you explain your decision to leave banking and pursue a more creative path?
MEGHA MITTAL: I found it a pretty natural decision. I enjoyed my time at Goldman, but I grew up in a very creative environment. My mom is quite artistic, and I grew up around a lot of textiles and craftsmen, and I guess that stayed with me. I always loved fashion. … I felt like I was drawn to a career where you can also be more instinctive.
WM: What initially brought you to Wharton?
MITTAL: I came to Wharton because I wanted to go to the best business school in the world.
WM: Running Escada requires business acumen, but also creativity and expression, no?
MITTAL: Absolutely. That’s what I enjoy about it.
WM: Why Escada in particular, when you were looking for a brand to acquire?
MITTAL: I looked at a lot of brands at that time, and Escada really intrigued me. Escada is a really iconic brand, and it was a leading brand of the late ’80s and ’90s, but it needed rejuvenation, and I saw a lot of potential. It has a great history … and a great story. Even now, if I’m at a party, people come up to me and tell me that they got married in Escada or they just wore Escada to their daughter’s wedding.
WM: Has it lived up to the potential?
MITTAL: Absolutely, we’ve made a lot of changes in the last few years. We’ve modernized the collections, we’ve revamped operations, we’ve renovated the majority of our store portfolio. We’ve launched e-commerce and are very active digitally on social media. We’ve also extended our product portfolio to watches and jewellery and home furnishings. Building a brand is really a journey, and I think there is much more we can do.
WM: How does the brand reflect your own life? Your own experiences?
MITTAL: I’m a working woman, and I’m a mom. So I see the world through the eyes of our customer because I’m also the customer. I wear the brand day in and day out; I live in the brand.
Escada is essentially a place where an international, modern, busy woman can find anything she needs in one store. If she needs something for a cocktail party, she’ll find it; if she needs something for the office or if she needs something for a weekend away, she’ll find all of that in our store. Because we cater to the complete lifestyle of a woman, and we like to think of ourselves as a woman’s best friend. So we understand them and how they think and how they want to dress.
WM: How does that differentiate you from other luxury designers?
MITTAL: We have a very feminine point of view. We stand for understated glamour, elegance and femininity.
WM: What is your “average day” on the job like? Do you have a usual day?
MITTAL: I wish there was, but actually one of the exciting things about working with a global fashion brand like Escada is that there is no typical day. My role is quite varied. I travel quite a bit, either to meet with my teams and partners in different parts of the world or to attend shop openings and related events. For example, I was just in China in April because we opened a new flagship store in Hong Kong.
WM: Do you have a favorite part of what you’ve done at Escada?
MITTAL: I would say the best part is always when you see the new collection come out, for which I’m always present. It always, always surprises you. It’s always very exciting. It’s really all about the product.
WM: As a business leader, what would you say the most valuable trait is for someone in your position?
MITTAL: I think it’s to be good with people. … EQ than IQ.
WM: Would you share the story of how you met your husband at Wharton?
MITTAL: Right on Locust Walk. … We met through common friends. He was one year senior to me, so I was a freshman when he was a sophomore. We were friends at first, which developed into something deeper, and we got married soon after graduation.